Buildings in a so-called circular economy

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More businesses are thinking circular. Nothing is wasted and resources are endlessly repurposed. It’s a logical solution to a resource-constrained world but can it work for buildings?


Buildings in a so-called circular economy

According to the United Nations by 2050 we could need three times more resources than we currently use, due to population growth and unabated consumerism. As concerns mount over the state of the world’s natural resources, more companies are championing the idea of a circular economy – in which almost nothing is wasted and resources are endlessly repurposed.

A fashionable concept
Big companies from Apple to M&S have been quick to embrace ‘circular’ solutions. In the fashion world, H&M aims to become 100 percent ‘circular’ helped by its in-store garment-collection program and polyester fashion line made from reprocessed PET bottles. While these solutions make absolute sense for retailers, can they really work for buildings?

Time to rethink buildings
In short, the answer is yes. And we need them to; the building industry consumes over 400 million tonnes of material a year and generates a third of all our waste. This waste problem comes at great cost, not only to the planet but also to our pockets; at around 1 percent of turnover – or 30 percent of pre-tax profits. Circular buildings could turn this around, with durable, re-usable components that can be easily put together, taken apart and accessed for repair or replacement.

Extending the life of buildings
Extending the life of buildings and their components is one way to drive positive change. At Park 20|20 in Amsterdam, Delta Developments consciously designed its buildings to be both adaptable and de-constructable. The space can be easily reconfigured, maintained and updated to suit society’s ever-changing needs.

Taking on new modular designs
Modular designs are increasingly popular. Examples such as Legal & General’s modular housing arm threaten to shake up traditional approaches to British house construction. As well as reducing construction waste, modular designs could also provide an antidote to the housing crisis; by improving speed and affordability.

Turning waste into building materials
New building materials, especially those with excellent circular economy credentials are emerging. Lendlease is a proponent of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), a high quality timber product that has a low ecological footprint and is faster and less labour-intensive to construct than conventional materials. The first 10-storey apartment building made with CLT took five skilled workers just 10 weeks to build. New commercial models will emerge too: forward-thinking manufacturers are already ‘leasing’ rather than selling certain building components in the hope of repurposing them at some point down the line.

The royal stamp of approval
Circular thinking really is gaining traction in the property sector. The Crown Estate (entrusted to manage property owned by the British monarchy) recently announced its goal of removing all waste from its business by 2030 and joined leading companies like Royal BAM and Arup in the Circular Economy 100 initiative.

Modernise or die
The need to move towards a more circular economy is no longer in doubt nor are the potential economic opportunities. To recycle the phrase Mark Farmer used in his assessment of the British construction sector, the choice is simple, “modernise or die”.

Article written by Laura Jockers and Anthony Maguire in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Services team.

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